All you need to know about telemedicine and travel insurance

On a recent visit to Abu Dhabi, my eyes dried out so badly that they felt like raisins under the scorching desert sun.

Unfortunately, it was Saturday as well, and most doctors’ offices were closed. But my insurance company offered a telemedicine appointment in a matter of minutes.

Telemedicine, which allows a doctor to evaluate, diagnose and treat you remotely, is one of the biggest trends in the epidemic. Telehealth use is 38 times higher than the pre-Covid baseline, according to a McKinsey study. And now travel insurance companies are on board by offering telemedicine services to policyholders or covering telemedicine visits.

“The pandemic has brought telemedicine to the front lines of people seeking medical advice and prescription drugs,” explains Adrian Leach, CEO of World Travel Protection. “Many healthcare centers and medical assistance providers have increased their telehealth capabilities in the past two years.”

The latest company to do so is AIG Travel (Travel Guard). It has just announced an agreement with medical provider New Frontier Group for international telehealth and pharmacy services for its international travelers. New Frontier will support AIG’s eight global service centers with local telemedicine and prescription services for travelers from the United States, Canada, and some countries in the Middle East.

Have you ever consulted a doctor via a telehealth service on a trip? Tell me about your experience. Please scroll down to leave a comment.

New telemedicine offerings raise some questions for travelers. Among them: What type of travel insurance do I need? Should I get a policy with telehealth services or telehealth coverage? How do I find a policy with the telemedicine option? More importantly, how can I use the telemedicine services of a travel insurance company if I need it?

Itchy eyes in the United Arab Emirates

My eyes show the challenges of providing telemedicine services abroad. My insurance company, GeoBlue, can offer telemedicine services because the UAE government accepts prescriptions written by American doctors. But this is not universally true, but the usefulness of telemedicine can be limited if your location does not accept US prescriptions.

“GeoBlue has robust telemedicine services that are available around the clock to diagnose patients and even provide them with a prescription,” says Joe Cronin, president of Nationals International Insurance. “Their network of telemedicine doctors is spread all over the world, so there is a good chance that a doctor will be able to prescribe medications in the country you are in.”

GeoBlue’s telemedicine services can only be accessed through the GlobalMD smartphone app. I was assuming that I could use the desktop app, as I did on my previous health insurance company. I finally got in touch with a doctor. But in the end, I decided that the best solution was to contact my ophthalmologist in the US and have the medication sent to my next destination, South Africa.

In the meantime, I found some soothing over-the-counter eye drops. I stayed out of the sun.

What travel insurance companies provide telemedicine services?

Travel Guard’s telemedicine network consists of more than ten separate providers. So when you contact Travel Guard for medical advice, they choose a provider based on your location.

“Telemedicine is a relatively new service from Travel Guard, and with continued US and international travel, we are starting to see use of our telemedicine network,” notes James Page, chief operating officer of AIG Travel.

During the pandemic, World Travel Protection has also partnered with 1800MD and AirDR to increase telehealth offerings in more than 60 countries.

“This ensures the ability to provide prescriptions when needed on-site and help complete medical referrals where specialist support is required,” says Leach, the company’s CEO.

Generali Global Assistance also offers telemedicine through its travel insurance plans. If you are a policy holder, you can access telemedicine services through a network of licensed physicians in the United States. They provide medical information, advice, and treatment, including prescribed medications, when appropriate and legally permitted. Telemedicine is available to General by phone.

Redpoint Travel Protection provides 24/7 access to an on-site medical team in case of a medical emergency. “Services include medical evacuation coverage, medical referrals and telemedicine consultations,” says Carissa Cernera, Director, Redpoint Resolutions.

Travel Insured International’s travel protection plans include telemedicine services. “This option provides travelers with the ability to contact licensed physicians for medical treatment, advice, and even prescriptions when necessary,” says Sherry Sutton, Vice President of Marketing, Travel Insured International.

What travel insurance companies also cover telemedicine services?

While some insurance companies may not provide telemedicine services directly, they still cover telemedicine visits. For example, Allianz Travel Insurance, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, covers telemedicine visits through its policies while you travel.

“Our travel assistance team can help assess a client’s situation and direct them to the nearest appropriate healthcare provider,” says Allianz spokesman Daniel Durazo. “If the client decides that a telemedicine service is the best option, we will be happy to reimburse the cost of a telemedicine visit covered under the client’s emergency medical coverage.”

Many other travel insurance companies cover telemedicine visits.

Seven Corners Travel Medical covers “reasonable and customary” fees up to the policy limit for covered illnesses and injuries, which includes telemedicine. “Our coverage includes health-related services, treatment, and other consultations between the insured and their physician or nurse practitioner,” says Angela Borden, Product Marketing Specialist at Seven Corners.

Why are telemedicine claims increasing at travel insurance companies?

Christina Tuna, general manager of the Americas for World Nomads, says her company has noticed an increase in claims related to telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is part of a mix of options for World Nomads travelers who need medical assistance and can often be part of a triage approach,” she says. “For example, it may be useful as part of a traveler’s attorney in a non-emergency situation.”

Insubuy, which sells a variety of medical and travel policies through its site, also covers telemedicine.

“Most people want telemedicine as part of their coverage to facilitate access to healthcare,” explains Narendra Khatri, Director of Insubuy. “If you have a stomach cold or flu in another country, there is no need to go after it and sit in the doctor’s office unless absolutely necessary.”

Tips for using telemedicine with your travel insurance

Using a telemedicine service is not as simple as contacting your travel insurance company. Experts say there are a few things you need to know before you call. First, and perhaps most importantly, read your travel insurance policy to make sure telemedicine is offered or covered. If not, see a doctor in person. You better know Before You buy your document.

Know when to use telemedicine

“It is important to know when telemedicine services are appropriate and when it is most appropriate to call the emergency line of your travel insurance provider,” says Jeff Rolander, claims manager at Phi Travel Insurance. If you need to go to the emergency room, do not contact your telemedicine service provider; They will just send you to the hospital.

Get ready for your date

This is the advice of Heather Trim, a full-time traveler and registered nurse. “Make sure you are somewhere with a strong Wi-Fi connection,” she advises. “Find a quiet place so you can hear your provider clearly, and they can hear you clearly.

And be prepared for any written questions so that you are not forgotten. ”

Take advantage of the strengths of telemedicine

Telemedicine is ideally suited for the traveler who may face unique health challenges in the travel environment. “When traveling abroad, people are exposed to many viruses, bacteria, parasites, and insects that they would not normally be exposed to at home,” says Bob Bachler, managing director of Flying Angels, a medical transportation service. A telemedicine doctor can quickly diagnose a problem in a remote location even when no other medical professionals are available.

recovering from covid? Use telemedicine

This is advice from Yvette McQueen, a physician who travels frequently. “Telemedicine is a game changer if the traveler is international and becomes infected with Covid,” she says. “After five days of isolation and no symptoms, the doctor can conduct a video visit to provide the traveler with a letter of recovery to return to the United States.”

Remember, it’s complicated

If both the patient and the doctor were in the United States, it would be much easier to navigate telemedicine. The physician must be licensed to practice in the state in which you reside. “But access to telemedicine abroad is problematic for a number of reasons,” says Amy Roberts, a frequent traveler and user of telemedicine services who lives in Park City, Utah. There are issues with billing, payment, liability, malpractice, e-commerce regulation, fraud and abuse, anti-corruption, and global tax compliance. Roberts recommends trying local health care first if you’re abroad.

This is the biggest mistake you can make with telemedicine and travel insurance

But perhaps the biggest mistake a traveler can make is ignoring telehealth options, says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, a company that provides medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.

“Medical consultations with paramedics, nurses and doctors via telephone and video are a very important resource for travelers, who are able to receive diagnosis and treatment recommendations quickly in settings that may lack adequate resources to provide these services,” he says.

So the next time you buy travel insurance, ask if your policy comes with telehealth or covers a medical consultation with a doctor over the phone or online.

Sure, telehealth and travel insurance can be complex and not appropriate for every disease. But during a year of frequent travel, this is a reassuring option for travelers.

Have you ever used a telemedicine service while you were traveling? Please share your experience in the comments.

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